Vanderbilt Takes a Big Step Backwards

David RutzCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31:  Larry Smith #10 of the Vanderbilt Commodores passes against the Boston College Eagles during the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field on December 31, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Maybe Bobby Johnson has a short memory.

He said he was embarrassed for the team's performance after the Vanderbilt's 23-7 loss to Ole Miss Saturday night. He said he couldn't remember a game where his team was more out of sync, calling it "disheartening."

I can. It was two weeks ago in an equally ugly 15-3 loss to Mississippi State. In fact, I'm sensing a pattern here.

Another anemic attack in the passing game, badly beaten in the time-of-possession battle once again, and an amazing amount of mental errors for a team that prides itself on keeping its head on a swivel out there.

This team that was hoping to get some momentum out of a 36-17 win over Rice went right back into a hole, and they're staring up at the rest of the conference, buried with an 0-3 record.

A dreadful first half left the Commodores down 17-0 and, for all intents and purposes, the game was over; Larry Smith had gone 0-9 passing and would finish 10-27 for 69 yards, somehow lowering an already bad completion percentage.

My friend joked that the offense should write the defense an apology letter. Maybe they should; so far, in three conference games, this no-huddle "offense" has produced 17 points, and the defense has been on the field at least 35 minutes every time.

Even more disheartening, and unacceptable, were the shocking amount of penalties the Commodores committed, 12 for 74 yards, against the Rebels. 11 were false starts.

Combine that with the aerial attack and that's -5 yards for Vanderbilt.

A defining moment for the night was when Vanderbilt trailed 10-0 in the second quarter and had a nice drive going down to the Rebel 15.

And the Commodores froze up.

What followed was a stuffed run up the middle, a false start, a -4 yard rush (on yet another failed QB draw), and a sack.

Ryan Fowler came in and shanked the field goal, and that was that.

Five games into the season, Vanderbilt should be clicking.

Five games into the season, Vanderbilt is reeling.

Five games into the season, Vanderbilt has proven that it can beat teams that are terrible. Its two wins are against squads with a combined record of 0-10.

After Army next week, every opponent is as good or better than the SEC teams Vanderbilt has faced so far.

Where's the improvement? Where's the progress? 

There has been none.

And the staff certainly isn't putting them in positions to succeed. Vanderbilt's best passing weapons, our pair of big tight ends in Austin Monahan and Brandon Barden, weren't used, combining for one catch for five yards.

They combined for one catch for five yards, and predictably, Smith and his undersized, inexperienced receivers couldn't get anything going downfield, with his longest completion being 13 yards.

So where are we at?

We've got novices at two of the game's most scrutinized positions (Smith at quarterback, Fowler at kicker), who appear to be needing the entire season to find themselves, we've got an offensive line that is badly underachieving, we've got a staff that's getting out-schemed by every conference staff.

We've got problems. Where are the solutions?